Cast & Crew
Olivia De Havilland
During homecoming weekend at Midwestern University, English professor Tommy Turner and his wife Ellen host a cocktail party for Dean Frederick Damon and his wife Blanche; anti-intellectual trustee Ed Keller and his wife Myrtle; and former football hero Joe Ferguson. Just before dinner, Damon informs Tommy and Ellen that student Michael Barnes, a boyfriend of Ellen's sister, Patricia Stanley, has written an editorial excoriating the trustees as fascists and pointing to Tommy as the only professor interested in freedom of speech. In the editorial, Michael mentions that the following Monday during class, Tommy will read a letter by Bartolomeo Vanzetti, an anarchist executed for murder along with his associate, Nicola Sacco, in 1927. Both Damon and Ellen are worried that if Tommy goes ahead with his plans, the trustees will brand him a Communist and fire him. Tommy does not want to be an example, but does not really understand why he should not read the letter to his class. Later Joe, a former boyfriend of Ellen's, arrives with flowers for Ellen's birthday, which Tommy has forgotten, and announces that he and his wife are divorcing. During cocktails, Keller learns about the Vanzetti letter and expresses his horror that Tommy would expose his students to something un-American. Tommy gets so angry at Keller that he decides to read the letter to spite him. Then when Joe and Ellen dance together to an old song, all of Tommy's old jealousy of Joe returns. After the rally, Joe offers to take Tommy and Ellen to dinner, but Tommy pleads illness and encourages Ellen to accept his offer. The next day, the entire campus is in an uproar over Michael's editorial, and Tommy, believing that Ellen is still in love with Joe, decides to drive her away for her own good. Although Joe does not really want to marry Ellen--he is more interested in who will win the football game--he feels obligated to accept her if she leaves Tommy. While Joe and Ellen attend the game, Tommy and Michael get drunk. In nature, Tommy says, if another male threatens to take away an animal's mate, he tears him apart. Tommy then points out that he is a male animal. When Ellen and Joe return from the game, which was won by Midwestern at the last moment, Tommy announces his intention to knock Joe out. On Monday morning, Tommy, having been knocked out by Joe, must face the entire university and read Vanzetti's letter. Before they leave, Ellen announces her plans to live with Joe, upsetting both Joe and Tommy. Keller, meanwhile, has expelled Michael and threatens Tommy with dismissal if he reads the letter, but to everyone's surprise, Damon defends Tommy. In front of an enormous crowd, Tommy gives an impassioned speech in favor of the free exchange of ideas and free speech and then reads Vanzetti's moving and non-political letter. Ellen is deeply impressed by her husband's behavior, as are the students. Tommy is given a hero's reception and is reconciled with Ellen. Free from his obligation to Ellen, Joe plans to return to his wife.
Olivia De Havilland
William B. Davidson
De Wolfe Hopper
Stephen Morehouse Avery
Everett A. Brown
Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
Leo F. Forbstein
Willard Van Enger
The Male Animal
Meanwhile the Big Game has brought Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson) back to town. Not only was he the University's greatest football star but he was also the secret love of Professor Turner's wife Ellen (Olivia de Havilland). Between the pressure to cancel his reading of Vanzetti's letter and the fear of losing his wife to his manlier rival, the professor must find the "male animal" within him.
The Male Animal (1942) first appeared on Broadway as one of the comic highlights of the 1940 season. The authors were Elliot Nugent, the playwright and occasional movie director who also played the lead, and James Thurber, best known for his hilarious cartoons for The New Yorker. In an unusual move for a Hollywood studio, Warner Brothers decided to bring the play to the screen with notable fidelity, even hiring co-author Nugent to direct. Their only requirement was that Nugent recast the play using big-name stars. He couldn't have made a better choice for his replacement as lead than Henry Fonda. Fonda's bespectacled professor brings to mind the comedy of his retiring herpetologist in The Lady Eve (1941) while his final speech employees all the gravity he brought to his migrant worker in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Fonda and Nugent then both pursued Olivia de Havilland for the role of the professor’s wife, giving this actress best known for her period dramas a chance to shine in a comic role. Jack Carson, that thick-necked blusterer from so many Warner Brothers films, was a perfect choice for the former football star while gravelly-voiced Eugene Pallette is a delight as the trustee determined to exercise political correctness, 1940's style.
Also notable in the cast are a number of actors who would later become famous on television. The firebrand school reporter is played by Herbert Anderson, more familiar later as Dennis the Menace's TV father. Don DeFore, later to play Mr. B on the sitcom Hazel, is one of the football players and Raymond Bailey, Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies, is a reporter camped out on Professor Turner's porch. Also visible in a bit role is Gig Young, later Oscar winner for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969).
If you are one of those who always hated all the hoopla that surrounded the Big Game, The Male Animal is the send-up of college athletics you've craved.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Elliott Nugent
Screenplay: Stephen Morehouse Avery, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Based on the play by Elliott Nugent and James Thurber Art Direction: John Hughes
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editing: Thomas Richards
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Henry Fonda (Tommy Turner), Olivia de Havilland (Ellen Turner), Joan Leslie (Patricia Stanley), Jack Carson (Joe Ferguson), Eugene Pallette (Ed Keller), Herbert Anderson (Michael Barnes), Ivan Simpson (Dr. Damon).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady
The Male Animal
A 15 June 1941 New York Times news item revealed that Warner Bros. paid playwrights Elliott Nugent and James Thurber $150,000 for the rights to their play. A press release included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library announced that the film was to have starred Priscilla Lane, but she was cast in another project. everal members of the cast, including Don DeFore, Ivan Simpson, Minna Phillips and Regina Wallace, reprised their Broadway roles for the film. Director and author Nugent played the role of "Tommy Turner" on stage. The world premiere of the film was held in Columbus, OH, where Ohio State University, the alma mater of both Nugent and Thurber, is located. Variety mistakenly lists the film's running time as 126 minutes.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were political radicals accused of murdering a shoe-factory paymaster and guard and stealing the $16,000 payroll. They were convicted in 1921 and electrocuted in 1927. During the appeal of their case, doubt of their guilt led to worldwide protests. Nugent and Thurber's play was also the inspiration for the 1952 Warner Bros. musical She's Working Her Way Through College, starring Ronald Reagan and Virginia Mayo and directed by Bruce Humberstone. In the latter film, the story turns on whether an ex-burlesque queen should be allowed to stay in college.